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Exodus 3:1-12: Fire that Calls

Steve Rodeheaver and Dennis Bratcher

Today we are looking at with Exodus 3:1-12.  It is the first episode in the narrative of Moses' call by God to be the deliverer of Israel.  The entire narrative runs to 4:17.

In a nutshell, God calls and Moses objects several times for various reasons.  God is persistent in His call, and finally Moses submits.  Wise move.

Moses is in the wilderness tending the sheep of his father-in-law, going about his own business.  Suddenly God encounters him by means of a burning bush that is not consumed by the flames.  Notice that Moses was not looking for God but God was looking for Moses.  I suspect that God is, and has been, looking for us long before we think to look for God.  As God calls and Moses approaches the bush, God warns Moses not to come any closer, but to take off his shoes, for he is standing on holy ground. 

Why does holy ground require bare feet?  To be honest, I don't know.  But think about this: Who makes shoes?  Humans do.  Who makes feet?  God does.  God is unapproachable through human-manufactured stuff, be the stuff high tech or simply a pair of sandals.  Human-made stuff is too pretentious for God.  To enter into God's holy presence requires the removal of all pretension. Only God-made stuff can enter into God’s holy presence.  Moses can only stand on holy ground in his bare feet, as one made in the image of God. 

What are the implications of this bare-foot doxology for our own worship? Let me go at it from another angle.  I have often seen guys wearing $100 basketball shoes but they only have about a $15-$20 game.  $100 shoes on a $20 player.  They want to look better than what they are.  Their footgear is pretentious.  They are unwilling to admit that they have no game.  The shoes are a cover-up of who they really are.  When we come before God, our shoes must reflect who we really are.  What we claim to be must be reflected in what we really are and how we live.  And so pretention of any kind before God just won't cut it.  God's not impressed with $100 shoes, or with worship that is pretentious.  He'd rather have bare feet and sincerity.  Shedding our own pretentiousness in coming before God, humbling ourselves before the Creator of all things, becomes an act of authentic worship.

The prophet Micah said it like this:

6:6 "With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 6:7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" 6:8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the  LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness,  and to walk humbly with your God?

God's message to Moses centers on three key words that work out throughout the book of Exodus: see, hear, know.  These three words come to encapsulate the Israelite understanding of God:

I have seen the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings,

God is the One who sees the circumstances of our lives, the One who hears our cries and groaning in prayer, and who knows us well enough to come into our lives and brings his enabling presence to address our needs.  In this case, it is a declaration of deliverance, of salvation.  Yet it is not only deliverance from oppression, but a promise of the blessings of a land flowing with milk and honey.  We should not always expect physical reward for serving God or immediate solutions to our problems when we cry out to him in times of distress.  That reduces God to a dispenser of treats.  It was no magic solution for the Israelites.  There would be many years of struggle ahead down a sometimes dark and rough road.  Yet the journey began with their cries to a seeing, hearing, and knowing God. The nature of this God, the One who sees, and hears, and knows, tells us that we can expect things to happen in our lives when we turn to this God.

God calls Moses to be his agent of this impending deliverance.  Moses had tried to be the deliverer once before and had failed (Exod 2:11-15).  He had grown up in Pharaoh's household and the Israelites were not willing to accept him as the leader of a rebellion against the might of Egypt.  Now God tells Moses, "I have picked you to lead my people out of Egypt."

Like most of us would do when confronted with such an impossible task Moses immediately questions his credentials for such a task, pointing out to God by his question his lack of ability. "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" No doubt that earlier failure and rejection weighs heavily on Moses as he hears the commission from God.  Subtly, Moses shifts the responsibility for the success or failure of the task to himself. In effect, he has just condemned the entire project to failure by placing the outcome on himself. "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh."  The answer, of course, is "you are no one."  Moses is right.

This is the first of a series of five objections, reasons why Moses cannot possibly succeed.  On one level, these objections are psychological, the fear and misgivings of one who has already tried and failed.  On another level they are theological, expressing the all too true reality that Moses cannot on his own challenge Pharaoh.  Too often the challenges of life are beyond our own personal abilities.  But then, that is really the point.  Moses doesn’t have to succeed on his own.

"Who am I that I should do this," is a fair question.  Is Moses capable? He hasn't been in the past.  Will the people follow him?  They refused before.  And there is the subtle unspoken question that begins to play out in the story:  Is Pharaoh, thought by Egyptians to be the incarnation of the Egyptian god Ra, more powerful than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?  That begins to emerge as the real issue of the narrative.

In response, God shifts the focus from Moses and his inability to God and his sufficiency.  "I am/will be with you."  That is what matters.  That is what qualifies.  That is what makes one equal to a God-given task.  "I am/will be with you."

God has a habit of calling us in over our heads, calling us beyond our qualifications, asking us to do something beyond ourselves.  We frequently respond as Moses did:  "Who am I for such an assignment?  I'm not qualified."  God does not try to convince us that we really are qualified.  Instead, God offers the promise:  "I am/will be with you."  Whatever God is calling you to, no matter how over your head it might be, trust His promise to be present.  It is God's presence, and only God's presence, that enables us to do God's bidding.

At the close of Matthew where Jesus commissions his disciples to go and make disciples, what does Jesus promise them?  "I will be with you always."  In 2 Corinthians 2:14-3:6 Paul raises the question as to who is adequate for the task of being a minister of the gospel.  Paul’s answer: no one, except whom God has made competent through Christ.  The presence of Christ and nothing but, makes one adequate for the ministry of Christ.  As God calls you into His incarnational ministry, don't get stuck on your own inadequacies. 

Hear the promise:  "I am/will be with you."  Some hurting folks are counting on you believing that promise.  Hear it again:  "I am/will be with you." Don't focus on yourself, but focus on the One calling you:  "I am/will be with you."

Answer the call.  Christ will competent you with his presence.  "I am/will be with you."

-Steve Rodeheaver, Copyright 2014, Steve Rhodeheaver and CRI/Voice, Institute
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